DIR: Jalil Lespert • WRI: Jacques Fieschi, Jérémie Guez, Marie-Pierre Huster, Jalil Lespert • PRO: Yannick Bolloré, • DOP: Thomas Hardmeier • ED: François Gédigier • DES: Aline Bonetto • CAST: Pierre Niney, Guillaume Gallienne, Charlotte Le Bon, Laura Smet
A concise, stirring and fashion-filled portrayal, Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent portrays two decades in the world of the renowned clothing designer with genuine emotion, style and a superb central performance by Pierre Niney.
First, what strikes me about the latest biopic of Yves Laurent’s life is how similar the film’s lead resembles the designer in his young days. I’m no fashionista, but a quick google search after the film left me feeling a little stunned. Pierre Niney, inhabits and owns this role; mimicking the voice, facial expressions, stance and mannerisms to near perfection. Black rimmed glasses and a nose implant mirror a young Saint Laurent to such an extent that the late designer’s surviving dog, reportedly, thought he had found his master when brought to the set.
Yet despite all this, the film’s recent history is fraught with disagreement amongst critics. Unlike here, the UK or in America, biopics are a recently new revelation in France. Le vie en Rose is regarded as the first real success to tread this unfamiliar terrain for the French, but its arrival has opened the flood gates. So much so, that there exists another recent film based on the same designer’s life, Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent.
Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent film begins with the famed youth in Oran, Algiers in the 1950s. It progressively becomes a little strange as the film is narrated by Bergé, YSL’s long term business partner, despite the fact that Bergé doesn’t meet the young designer until later in the film. However, Lespert progresses the narrative along to detail Yves’ quick success with Dior, the disastrous effects of the Algerian War on the designer, Dior’s decision to let him go, Yves and Berge’s efforts to raise the funds needed to set up their own couture house, its subsequent success, and the pressure placed on Yves.
The film flounders somewhat over the separation of Berge and Saint Laurent in its final scenes. With the love interest removed, despite having been elevated to the role of co-star, Berge seems to lose his filmic purpose.
While Bertrand Bonello’s version starring Gaspard Ulliel and Jeremie Renier (with Willem Dafoe amongst a host of others) is widely believed to be Cannes-bound, the present effort should not be quickly discredited. For some in France, Jalil Lespert’s film, is the ‘authorised’ portrayal of YSL, having the blessing and cooperation of Bergé himself (now in his 80s). With this blessing, the production team were able to use authentic locations and genuine clothing designs. These give a sense of authenticity that help backdrop Niney’s striking performance.
All in all, Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent is a touching portrait of a genius. Also, I didn’t mention it, I shouldn’t have to, but the clothes are gorgeous.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Yves Saint Laurent is released on 21st March 2014